Monday, March 21, 2016

Proberta, California Train-Bus crash. November 30, 1921

Proberta, California Bus/Train Accident 11-30-21
One of the first Distracted Driving crashes?

The day starts out like any other day...Parents send their kids to the bus stop, or drop them off at school for a much anticipated field trip or watch them board a team bus headed for an away game at a rival school, then await their kids' return, anticipating tales of evil teachers and impossible homework, or boy/girl problems, or field trip hi-jinks, or wait for them to climb off of the team bus wearing either the gleeful looks of victory or the glum expressions of defeat, and 99.9% of the time their kids get home safe and sound, and everything's fine and normal and right with the world.

Then it happens...The bus doesn't show up on time, then it gets later and later...

If it's the morning run, teachers and the school principal feel aggravation that becomes worry that morphs into dread as they try to find out where the bus is...

...If it's the afternoon run, or the wait at school for the bus to make the turn into the school driveway or bus-ramp as it returns from field trip or game, it's the parents who are getting more frantic with each passing minute.

If it's the morning run, Mom or Dad don't have a clue that anything's wrong, but if it's the afternoon run, or the aforementioned wait for field trip or team bus they've been fretting, trying to rationalize why their kids' bus is later and later getting them home...and then the phone rings. They answer it and their life falls apart as a disembodied but shocked voice says 'Mr/Ms Name, I'm so sorry...God, I don't even know how to say this...but (Child's Name)'s bus just got hit by a train'...

Oh the phrasing of that notification changes from incident to incident, and sometimes, if the area's small and close knit enough, the caller knows the parent he's talking to on a first name basis, and sometimes the notification is made in person rather than by phone, but the reaction is always the same. The horrified disbelief and shock, a mad scramble to get to the scene and/or the hospital, screams and sobs of grief. Sadly, parents have been getting that horrible notification that forever marks that particular day as the worst day in their life for 113 years.

The very first recorded accident involving a train hitting a school system owned vehicle with kids aboard happened, as I've noted in previous posts, in Congers, NY in Feb 1902 when a horse drawn 'Kid Hack' bringing students back from a basketball game got caught between manually lowered crossing gates and was struck by an oncoming train, killing eight, two of whom were sisters. The accident happened at a now likely long-removed crossing on what's now West Nyack Road (Also known as Old Route 59). The crossing where this accident occurred, BTW, was on the same stretch of track as the crossing where the far more infamous and well known Congers Bus Accident occurred seventy years later. Interestingly enough. the 1902 accident actually caused three more fatalities than the later train/bus crash. It was also the first time that parents got that horrible notification .

A horse drawn 'Kid Hack', possibly much like the one involved in the first ever recorded train-school bus accident in February 1902. Note the wooden body, rear entrance and steps...these features carried over to the first motorized buses. In fact, many early motorized buses were simply truck chassis with the body of a 'Kid Hack remounted on it.

Eighteen years passed before an even worse bus-train accident appeared in the record books, one that would stop just short of causing twice as many fatalities. For this one we head all the way across the country, to Northern California and the very tiny Tehama County, California community of Proberta, Ca, about 120 miles north of Sacramento. It's a day shy of a week after Thanksgiving, 1921...Wed, November 30...and kids are beginning to get excited about Christmas. Oh, it's nothing like the run-away commercialism that we see today...not even close, in fact...but Christmas preparations are being made. Church choirs are practicing Christmas music. Parents are making an ongoing effort to determine what their kids want the Jolly Old Elf to put under the tree. And kids are looking forward to Christmas break, however long it may have been back in 1921, just as they do today.

The kids waiting for Bus #17, driven by sixteen year old Charles Bosworth (Note here...Students drove school buses in rural areas right on up to at least the early or mid 1970s) on that Wednesday morning ninety-four years ago were among those ready for Christmas break. They were all from the Dairyville area of the county, and they were all waiting on the side of rural roads along the circuitous route that'd take Bus 17 through Gerber...a couple of miles south of Proberta...and up San Bonito Ave to Proberta, where it would cross the tracks and 'T' into what's now State Route 90...the road that would take them to Red Bluff, and Red Bluff High School. But on this last morning of November, 1921 things weren't going as planned right from the git-go.

Lets take a look at Bus 17 while we have a chance. It was 1921, keep in mind. School buses of that era resembled modern school buses in concept only. The bodies were all wood and most likely boasted rear entrances and perimeter bench seating, which had the kids sitting with their backs against the sidewalls of the bus. These rides were for all intents and purposes (And very well may, in fact, have been) horse drawn kid hacks minus the horses and remounted on a mid or late teens truck chassis. They had no glass in the windows, no seat cushions, no safety equipment, and absolutely no structural integrity at all.

While no known pictures exist of the ill-fated Bus#17, this pic and the one below give a good idea of what it may have looked like. Wooden body, glass-less windows, wooden bench seat, and the structural integrity and crash-worthyness of your basic cardboard box.

That's the description of a fairly new bus, BTW. Bus #17 wasn't anywhere near  'New', and was, in fact. already old and going on decrepit when Chuck Bosworth cranked it to life on on that long ago Wednesday morning. Bosworth had started his route at the regular time, but he hadn't gotten too far along the route when the old bus started bucking and missing with that dreaded cadence that all but screamed 'The timing's gone south'. At one of the stops, he told the kids to hang on a bit, and...leaving the bus running because he figured it just might not start again if he shut it off...asked to use the phone at one of the houses. He called Red Bluff High to let principal Bob Hartzell know what was going on, but Hartzell wasn't in yet. The school secretary (Who, then as now, was the true backbone of the office crew) told Bosworth to get as far as he could and she'd let Hartzell know what was going on when he got there.

While Bosworth made his phone call one of the kids, named Deschamps, who'd just gotten on the bus started feeling sick and decided he just might need to go home. So he climbed off of the bus and walked back to his house. The exact nature of his illness has been lost to history, but it would go down as one of the most fortunately timed illnesses on record.

Bosworth came out of the house, climbed back aboard the roughly idling ride, told the rest of the kids what was going on, and pulled away from the house, but he didn't get too far down the road before the bus just gave up the ghost and crapped out completely. Bosworth tried several times to start it back up (And this being 1921 and the chassis already being elderly, that probably meant trying to crank-start it) with no success what so ever. So he sighed, opened the butterfly hood and began trying to see if he could get the thing running again. Three of his friends...two brothers named Boggs and another youth named Glaspey...climbed off the bus to 'lend their able assistance' (Spell that, most likely, 'Make good-naturedly smart ass comments') as Chuck Bosworth tried to get the thing running again. And, as the three boys were kibitzing these efforts, a second fortunate turn of events rolled up, in the form of a car driven by someone all three of the boys knew. An offer of a ride was given and accepted, the three boys climbed in...and three more lives were saved.

Bob Hartzell got the message about Bosworth's bus as soon as he got to Red Bluff High, and immediately grabbed two other student/bus drivers....J. L. Fitzsimmons and Roy Severns ...and sent them out to give Bosworth a hand and possibly bring the kids on Bosworth's bus to school. With both of them being students as well as bus drivers, it's a good bet that the buses were parked nose to tail in the school driveway, waiting for the end of the day just as their drivers and riders were, and it's an equally good bet that Hartzell grabbed those particular two drivers because one of their buses was at the head of the line of buses. The two of them cranked the relief bus to life, climbed aboard, and headed out in search of Bosworth's bus. They followed the route Bosworth's bus would have taken, and ran up on it just about the time he closed the hood. Fitzsimmons and Roy Severns got out and conferred with Bosworth for a second (My bet's the conversation had something to do with 'Lets see if this piece of *#!! will start and stay running.). Bosworth grasped the crank handle, gave it a tug or two, and the engine turned over and began a still rough, but much better idle.

That's when a short conversation featuring a life-altering decision very likely took place...probably something to the effect of:

 'Want to let that crew go on and switch over to my bus in case that thing dies again?' 

'Naaa...I'm already an hour late...lets get going, we'll put 'em on your bus if it does...'

 And with that, the fate of 14 kids was sealed. The relief bus backed into a driveway or farm road and turned around, Bosworth pulled out to follow him, and they headed for Red Bluff High...which they'd never reach.

They made it to Gerber and hung a right on San Benito Ave , heading for Proberta, the kids talking, joking, and goofing off as wind rushed through the glassless windows. As these two buses approached Proberta, Southern Pacific R.R. train # 15 was rolling south on the line that passed right through the community. (Which was actually named for the guy who made the land for the S.P. Right-of-way in the area available). SP. #15 would be rolling through Proberta without stopping,...their next stop would be Gerber, where they'd make a crew, as the train approached the crossing at San Benito Ave, the engineer blew the crossing warning...long-long-short-long...sending the whistles mournful wail out across the California countryside.

Satellite view of the Gerber-Proberta area today, with the accident crossing circle in red, and the bus route denoted by blue dashes. San Benito Ave and the tracks are exactly where they were 94 years and change ago, though San Benito was likely a dirt road back then. The area's still pretty rural.
Satellite view of the crossing today, with bus and train direction of travel as well as approximate locations of the Mackenzie house and the block signal mast that contributed to the accident's carnage denoted.

San Bonito Ave parallels the S.P tracks all the way from Gerber to Proberta, than makes a 90 degree turn to cross the tracks. It had, supposedly, gotten a bit hazy as the buses rolled into Proberta, but it also wasn't anything close to a pea-soup fog, according to Fitzsimmons, who was at the helm of the relief bus. He rolled around that 90 curve (To the left for them) and glanced left and right quickly as he rolled towards the crossing. I have a theory here...I think he saw the fast approaching Train # 15 and, deciding he had  plenty of time, he he rolled right on across. Luckily for him and Ray Severns, he was right. Bosworth saw his friend roll across without slacking up...

Somewhere near the crossing, a fellow named W. H. Mackenzie was taking advantage of the weather to get some pre-winter maintenance...that pre-winter honey-do list every man's familiar with...done when he heard a train whistle. If it was, as he suspected, S.P train # 15, and if it was, as he also suspected, on time, it should be just about 10:30 AM. He looked up and towards the crossing as Train 15's whistle shrilled through the morning air again, doing so just in time to see the first bus...the empty one, driven by Fitzsimmons...trundle across the tracks. Train 15's whistle, far closer now, shrilled a third time before the bus even cleared the crossing. That's when Mackenzie saw the second bus swinging out of that 90 degree curve and picking up speed as it approached the crossing, and he could see kids inside this one...a couple of youthful heads in each long, narrow side window. The whistle again. Mackenzie looked around to see the train only a hundred or so yards away, rolling at a good 45 or 50. He looked back around to see the bus still rolling towards the crossing, not slacking became real obvious real quick that it's driver wasn't planning to stop.

Mackenzie jumped up and started yelling at the driver of the bus, then started running towards it, waving his arms and shouting, desperately pointing towards the crossing, but there was no way Bosworth could see him because the bus was pulling away from him. Mackenzie stopped at the curve and watched in horror...

The kids on Bus 17 knew they were doomed for at least a few seconds, especially the kids sitting on the benches along the left side of the body, who were looking out of the right side windows...they had a clear, straight view across vacant land and up the tracks as Train # 15 bore down on the crossing, and its a good bet that they shouted warnings to Bosworth, but he either didn't hear them or heard them too late, as the bus rolled onto the crossing without even slacking up...

In the cab of Train 15's locomotive, the engineer, V. Greer, had already sounded his whistle a couple of times as they approached the San Benito Rd crossing. This particular crossing didn't bother him as much as some crossings did because drivers approaching from the south were actually looking north up the tracks...the road, remember, paralleled the northbound drivers would actually be looking towards any south-bound trains approaching Proberta, Theoretically a northbound driver should be able to see an oncoming train well before they rounded the 90 degree curve just before they reached the crossing. Again, theoretically that's the way it should work.

So, with that thought in mind, Greer really wasn't worried as he leaned out of the cab's right side picture window, enjoying the brisk fall air as he yanked the whistle lanyard left handed while watching the track ahead of him as well as he could with forty or so feet of boiler blocking his view. His peaceful mood was about to get shattered...they were about two football fields away from the crossing when, suddenly, a school bus appeared out of the blind-spot created by the boiler, moving left to right as it cleared the crossing and headed for the highway that ran parallel to and to the west of the tracks. Greer breathed a curse, as he reached up and started yanking the whistle lanyard again. On the other side of the cab his fireman, who was tending the firebox (Either stoking by hand or tending the mechanical stoker if the locomotive was equipped with one) and checking gauges, probably looked up questioningly. Greer had maybe gotten the first two long blasts and the short blast sounded as he looked away from the picture window for an instant, and very likely started to make a comment about idiots not paying attention to crossings when he was interrupted by a sudden jerk, followed by the thump, then scraping clatter of something slamming hard against, then sliding along the side of the locomotive. Greer flinched away from the picture window as an object bounced past it, at the same time grabbing the brake handle and yanking it hard into emergency, cursing as the brakes locked and steel wheels began singing against steel rails. The object that bounced past the cab was the mangled but still recognizable front end of a truck...

'I think we just got a bus...' he told his fireman.

The front end of Train 15's locomotive ripped into the right side of the bus at somewhere between 45 and 50 MPH with a cataclysmic 'CRUMMP!!!, exploding the wooden body in a cloud of splinters and ejecting everyone aboard with the force of a baseball hit for a line drive.  Back then there was a semaphore signal hard by the tracks on the west side of the crossing, about ten or fifteen feet south of the road, mounted on a four or so foot high, four foot square concrete base that was shaped like a pyramid with the top lopped off ...The front end of the denuded chassis slammed hard against the semaphore, jamming itself against the concrete base for just an instant as the frame rails bent, then whipped around to the left, snapping the chassis' mangled remains around clockwise and slamming the mangled cab of the bus  against the side of the locomotive an instant before the train's wheels started singing as they slid along the rails.  By some miracle, the chassis' twisted wreck didn't jam itself beneath the train, derailing it, as it flipped up and over, hitting the semaphore again and taking it out as it bounced away from the tracks.

Fitzsimmons heard the resounding crunch of the impact and stood on the lead bus' brakes, then turned and looked back out of his bus' back window...Severns probably jumped down out of the bus, looked back, and shouted towards Fitzsimmons, going goggle-eyed as he did so. Fitzsimmons yanked on the parking brake lever, and followed Severns off of the bus, turning to look towards the crossing as his feet hit the ground, seeing a sight that was likely burned into his brain until his own death decades later...the train was still sliding but slowing, the squeal of brakes slowly petering out. It took a second for his mind to process what he was seeing, for it to even believe what it was seeing before he realized that the shattered hulk lying next the the tracks was bus 17's chassis, that the the chunks of wood scattered and piled along the right of way had been the body of the bus only seconds ago, and that the lumps lying along the tracks were the kids...Oh, God, it looked like some of it was pieces of kids...he'd been talking to just a few minutes ago. He and Severns broke into a run towards the scene.

The two of them, along with Mackenzie, were the first three people on scene, and they found a gruesome, horrid sight as they ran up to the crossing. The bus body barely protected the ride's passengers from the weather, it had the crash-worthiness and structural integrity of a cardboard box when involved in a collision with a fast moving train. Everyone was thrown clear at the instant of impact, and several of the kids had been hurled forward, onto the tracks, in front of the locomotive. Someone...possibly Mackenzie...ran to a nearby house and called the sheriff, then Red Bluff High School, and it was likely from the school that those horrible notification's were made. Fitzsimmons and Severns began looking around for the kids who'd been on the bus...they ran up on a couple of bodies, as well as body parts almost immediately, but they were hoping against hope that some had survived... moans and sobs and faint cries for help confirmed that a few had. Thing is, some of the kids had been thrown as far as sixty or seventy feet, others had been dragged the length of a football field, and others were beneath the train. The two of them started walking the tracks (Probably on opposite sides of the train) looking for their friends.

Northbound on San Benito Rd, approaching the crossing today. The sight line up the tracks for northbound drivers is likely very close to what it was in 1921. On that long ago Nov 30th, when Bosworth got to this point on the then likely unpaved San Bonita Ave, he was watching Fitzsimmon's bus ease into the left-hand curve just before the crossing. If the locomotive had been making much smoke, he should have been able to see it from here (And I have a feeling Fitzsimmons did see the train, and figured he could beat it.). Bosworth's attention was very likely split between his friends on his bus, and watching Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons was probably crossing the tracks as Bosworth reached this point...he may even have been about where the silver minivan is. Now, it was reported that there was a heavy haze or ground fog that morning, but Fitzsimmons made it clear that he had no problem at all seeing the highway from this  side of the crossing, so I have my doubts that fog or haze played any part in the accident.

 The house that Mackenzie was painting was probably located on the dirt road branching off to the right, upper right center of the pic, beneath one of the modern day arrow signs. At this point Mackenzie had seen Fitzsimmons bus, and had spotted the oncoming train. He was also watching Bosworth's bus. In a few seconds he'd start his desperate but futile attempts to get Bosworth's attention and warn him about the train.

The block signal mast and foundation block that the bus was crushed against were probably located on the west side of the tracks, about fifteen or twenty feet south of the crossing.  This would have put it just about across the tracks from where the circuit box for the modern crossing signals...the large silver box to the left of the crossing, just about located today.

Driver's eye view of the crossing today. If you loose the crossing signals and picture San Benito Rd as a dirt road, it's pretty close to what Bosworth saw that morning as he approached the crossing with-out slowing down.  Fitzsimmons' bus would have been just about slowing for the stop sign at the highway. Bosworth didn't even slack up, likely figuring that if Fitzsimmons just sailed across, the way was probably clear. Thing is, if Bosworth had slowed and looked to his right...

He had a straight, unobstructed view up the tracks for a good half mile. This view, other than the addition of that one modern building, probably hasn't changed too much in just over 95 years. No question about it...if he'd stopped and looked, he would have seen the train

There were at least two other eye witnesses to the crash, and they may have called the Sheriff's Office as well, and they definitely called the rest of the town (Not that the accident was any great secret...between the impact and the screaming of locked wheels against rails, it was more them obvious that something bad had just happened). Fitzsimmons and Severns were were quickly joined by both passengers from the train and townspeople, and within a couple of minutes after they started their search. Engineer Greer trotted up to them and told them there were a couple of kids on the pilot of the locomotive, and one of them might be alive. They trotted towards the head end of the train, where they found two teens sprawled across the locomotive pilot. One, a young girl, had been killed instantly in the collision, but the other was Chuck Bosworth, and he was moaning, moving a bit, and conscious despite having a massive head injury...he told Fitzsimmons and Severns that he didn't see the train, and said something about the fog.

He'd tell Tehama County Sheriff M.O. Ballard the same thing before being transported to Red Bluff...he wouldn't get to repeat it though. Bosworth would die at the hospital the next day. Fitzsimmons would dispute this, however, He maintained that there was only a very light ground fog, and that he could see all the way out to the highway and beyond as he came around that 90 degree curve. I think Fitzsimmons saw the train, and figured...correctly, but just barely...that he could beat it. I also have a feeling that Chuck Bosworth saw his buddy sail across the tracks, figured the way must be clear, and just rolled onto the crossing without looking.

Sheriff Ballard, along with several of his men immediately started an investigation even as parents arrived at the scene, along with a contingent of school officials, as well as carloads of the curious from Red Bluff. This was an awful, awful scene, and there was no perimeter control what so ever. The parents arrived well before the special train that would be dispatched from Red Bluff to transport the injured, and had free reign of the scene. A couple of the injured were loaded into private autos and taken to Red Bluff (Probably without telling anyone that they'd done so, making it even more difficult to account for everyone on the bus.) . Several of the kids had been thrown ahead of the train, onto the tracks, and run over...their bodies had been torn apart and mutilated beyond any hope of recognition, and some parents were body parts wrapped in the remains of clothing, hoping that the clothing didn't look like the whatever their kids had been wearing when they left for school that morning. Other parents had the gut-wrenching experience of finding their child's body...there were scenes of mothers, sobbing their souls out, hugging their dead children (That's a two word phrase that should never have to exist...ever) to their breasts...

Early on, one of the train crew probably went to the Proberta train station and called the division headquarters at Gerber and they went into action. They had two things to do. First, stop traffic to keep another train from running up on. and into, the scene, creating an even worse catastrophe, and second, have the next passenger train through Red Bluff cut all but the first couple of coaches from the train, and head for Proberta to transport the injured back the the hospital at Red Bluff...the special train I mentioned above. In the days before modern EMS and Fire Service response, this was a very common type of emergency response to railroad accidents, and a store of stretchers was very likely kept at the depot. These were loaded onto the baggage and express car, which was almost always the first car behind the locomotive's tender. All but the first couple of cars would have been cut loose, and as the train pulled out of Red Bluff,  the engineer shoved the throttle wide open. He wouldn't back off of it and apply brakes until he was about a  mile or so out of Proberta.

The special train rolled into Proberta, and hissed to a stop only a few dozen yards from the crossing...the stretchers were unloaded and carried to where injured students lay, moaning, and more heart-wrenching scenes unfolded. One gravely injured young man asked, as he was being moved to a stretcher, if they could wait one minute and allow him to pray. His rescuers agreed, and he closed his eyes, said a prayer...and breathed his last as he finished. Another student...a young girl named Marion Day...was found unconscious and unmarked other than a good sized splinter of wood protruding from her skull. She was transported to St Elizabeth Hospital in Red Bluff, where doctors told her parents that she would not recover with the hunk of wood impaled in her brain...but that she would very likely not survive surgery. Her parents thought and discussed and prayed about the decision before finally consenting to surgery. Unfortunately, Marion died on the operating table. 

 One mom searched the scene frantically looking for her son...not finding him, she assumed that he'd been transported to Sisters' Hospital, so she set off for Red Bluff...but he wasn't there either. She began hoping that he was 'Playing Hooky' (An ancient term for what's today known as 'Skipping' or 'cutting' class) but her hopes were dashed when Train 15 was cleared to continue it's run, and, when it was moved, her son's body was discovered beneath the engine.

Even as the rescue train was being readied, a call went out to every doctor in Red Bluff, asking them to report to the hospital to handle the influx of injured kids, and to a man all of them responded and began readying themselves and the hospital's surgical suite for the soon-to-arrive trauma patients. They really didn't have that long to get ready. The rescue train's six mile run to Proberta was, at most, a ten to fifteen minute run and once they arrived on scene loading the injured on board the rescue train was likely also a pretty quick process. Remember, there was no real prehospital care ninety years was a case of put the patients on stretchers, load them in the baggage car, and go. Once all of the patients were loaded, the trip back to Red reverse, with the throttle likely wide open... probably took somewhere around ten minutes. Red Bluff's doctors probably had around an hour and probably less to be notified, get to the hospital, devise a game plan, and be ready for the injured to arrive.

Nine students were transported to St Elizabeth Hospital, all of them in critical condition, and with-in a couple of hours of the accident the hospital's surgical suite was fully occupied, with prepped patients waiting for an open operating theater. The problem was that the injuries were catastrophic...had the accident happened today, even with modern prehospital care and in-hospital emergency trauma care a modern trauma center would have been behind the eight ball. Back then they had pretty much lost the game before the first team even arrived.

Several of the gravely injured kids still managed to hang on for a day or young girl for thirty-six hours...but by midnight of the 22nd, there was only one survivor left, a young lady named Opal McNaughton, who was suffering from compound fractures of both legs as well as a shattered pelvis. She would spend over a year in the hospital and undergo several surgeries before going home. She would ultimately marry and raise a family.

The entire Community of Dairyville as well as Red Bluff High school, was thrown into shocked mourning by the crash, and while it's a cliché statement, it's true...literally everyone in both Dairyville knew some if not all of the kids on Bus 17 and I can just about lay bets on the fact that everyone at Red Bluff High did indeed know everyone aboard the ill-fated bus. The funerals probably seemed to go on forever, and the mourning for even longer.

The fact that no one on the bus was left to testify to just exactly what happened threw investigators for a bit of a loop. There were eyewitnesses to the accident, but all they could really say was the obvious...that the bus didn't stop at the crossing. The unknown this day, if truth be why Chuck Bosworth didn't stop. Investigators were pretty quick to hang the blame on the mist that was hanging in the morning air, saying that it obscured Bosworth's view of the train (And conveniently ignoring the fact that he didn't even slack up as he approached the crossing) but if you read into the few sources available, it doesn't take long to realize that the haze couldn't have been but so heavy. Mackenzie was further from the crossing than Bosworth by a hundred feet or so and he had no problem at all seeing Train 15 approaching. Ditto the other two eye witnesses. The driver of the first bus...Fitzsimmons...told investigators that he had no problem seeing the highway and beyond from the east side of the crossing as he approached it. SO...Why didn't Charles Bosworth see the train? Or, for that matter, stop in the first place.

Yep...Rob's gonna speculate again. I have a feeling that a pair of factors were at work here. You had a sixteen year old kid driving a bus loaded with kids his age, all of whom he knew. I have a feeling that a good deal of conversation and hi-jinks were going on. Oh, nothing out of the ordinary for a sixteen year old boy. Unless, of course, you were driving a school bus and therefore really didn't need to be distracted while you were driving.

Six of the dead, including Bosworth, were boys, and I can just about bet all six of them were clustered around the front of the bus carrying on conversation and cutting up as teen boys are wont to do. Remember also, that this bus had no glass in it's windows other than the windshield...while this should have made the train's whistle easier to hear, it just may have worked against Bosworth hearing it. First you'd have wind/road/engine noise blocking it out. Then you'd have six boys trying to make themselves heard over said noise. Add all of that up, and it's more than possible that he didn't hear...or heard but didn't notice...the whistle.

He was also following Fitzsimmon's bus...As I noted above, he looks up and sees the lead bus roll across the tracks without slacking up, so he figures that the way is clear and it's safe to he doesn't even really look as he rolls onto the crossing.

Whatever the reason that Bosworth drove his bus in front of a train on that long ago November Wednesday morning, his actions ended up taking 14 lives, including his own. Two sets of siblings were among those killed in the accident.

The wild thing is, Bosworth was perfectly within the law...until the train hit them. There were no laws in place yet requiring the driver of a school bus to stop at railroad crossings and, as this series of posts will show, it would be decades before such laws went into effect nationally. Local school board policies changed in reply to accidents, and by the mid-Thirties if not before, every school system that ran school buses probably had a 'Thou Shall Stop At Rail Road Crossings' policy in effect, and state laws slowly caught up with school board policies...but in 1921, and for over a decade afterward,  there still weren't any laws specifically addressing school buses stopping at grade crossings. Of course, it still boggles my mind that a person has to be told to stop a bus load of children at a railroad crossing and make absolutely sure it's safe to cross.

This accident, according to what I could find, brought about the end of students driving school buses in Tehama County, and possibly in California (But not in the rest of the country. Southampton County, Virginia, for example, had high school students driving school buses up until the early 70s.). Of course, history would prove...repeatedly and tragically...that being over 18 was absolutely no guarantee that the driver had common sense...because, really that's all it is. Good old common sense. You see a railroad crossing, you make sure a trains not coming. Especially if you're driving a bus load of kids. It really is that easy.

The victims of the Proberta Bus-Train Crash


<***>Notes, Links, and Stuff<***>

 The other posts in this series
in the order they were posted.

March 1972

October 1971

August 1976  Conasauga Tenn.  March 2000   Sandy, Utah Dec 1938  Proberta, California Nov 1921  Shreve and Berea Ohio Jan. 1930  Crescent City, Florida December 1933  Rockville, Maryland April 1935  MAson City, Iowa Oct. 1937 Eads, Tennessee Oct. 1941


Sometimes you just absolutely know you're behind the 8-ball before you even get started on a post...this one was one of those times. The accident happened 94 years and change back, the only information I could find on it was an ancient newspaper article on the genealogy site I farm for subjects for this learned blog, and the text of another article, posted on a ' page dedicate to one of the victims. The ICC accident report is, apparently, long gone.

Oh, the two articles I did find gave me enough info to figure out what happened, and enough extra detail to flesh it out a bit but a lot of details...such as the exact make and model of truck the bus body was mounted on...just weren't there, so I had to speculate a bit.

I tried to make it as accurate as possible, while making it interesting, informative, and readable...hope I succeeded. 


This accident apparently holds the very dubious distinction of being the very first major loss-of-life school bus-train accident involving a motorized school bus, and possibly the first major Loss of life accident of any kind involving a motorized school bus.

1 comment:

  1. My heart was pounding so hard at the point the train and bus collided. What a story....what a tragedy!